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Central Eating


For generations firemen have bestowed nicknames on their work colleagues and associates. Some of these nicknames would be the old standards ones like Dusty Miller, and Timber Woods Tug Wilson even, but the latest tradition in the brigade was to devise a nickname more suited to the individuals own appearance or character, and these were rarely considered complimentary. An anti smoking fireman whose surname was King, was dubbed Nosmo King (No Smoking) and henceforth always called Nosmo. Also at Hammersmith was a fireman whose alternative nickname STOCKINEAD was seldom used to his face. For the simple reason that he was a great big burly man whose pugilistic features gave the appearance, that he was wearing a stocking over his head when he wasn’t. There was a fireman called Fanny Rat, (English use of the word fanny not the American) which I feel needs no further explanation!. We had a Badger, a fireman with a white streak in his hair; we had a Budgie, a fireman named Finch. We had a sub officer nicknamed Jesus, (I knew not why for years) then one day in the pub it was explained to me “the bloke lives a charmed life and could probably walk on water”. We had a station officer called Captain Flack, I think this has some connotation with the Trumpton fire Brigade whatever that is. Over the years I myself have been called Tug (an old navy term) Little Legs (self explanatory) and Poison Dwarf shortened to PD. This is not the Poison Dwarf of South Fork or Dynasty fame, but instead refers to some rather pugnacious little Scottish soldiers serving in Germany in the late 1950,s. At a previous fire station I had a sub officer called (not to his face) Brass Band. It was only again during an after duty drinking session, when the firemen had mellowed somewhat that I was told the reason why. The fireman scathingly telling me “oh him he’s always blowing his bloody trumpet (boasting) about something or other”. As I explained in a previous book great care has to be taken with these dual names. For it is quite possible that fireman White alias Snowy, could on paper at least, be riding both the pump escape and the pump at the one and the same time, under his different names during the mutual change of riders which take place preceding the change of watches.

These nicknames can at times be destroyingly vicious. At the time of the Fire Brigade strike back in 1977 a young lady was appearing on and around Hammersmith fire station whom the firemen were addressing as Juanita (pronounced as wun-eater), I gave this no thought and myself addressed her by this name, this was cosmopolitan London a melting pot of all nations. In a casual conversation with Lee Finnan on the picket one day, I enquired was she of Hispanic origin with a name like Juanita. “Dunno Guv” he laconically replied as was his laid back attitude to life, “I think she’s from Shepherds Bush actually!”. Then adding as an afterthought “anyway that’s not her real name it’s her nickname, her real name is Pauline”. I know from experience that I should never ask how people get their nicknames but foolishly I did so, querying “why is she called Juanita then”. Lee replied with great surprise in his voice saying “what can’t you guess” “no she does not look at all Hispanic to me” I replied. “Its got nothing to do with religion” (his words) said Lee his face now beaming with delight, “its to do with her Gnashers (which he pronounced Gernashers) haven’t you noticed”. “Noticed what I said now getting a bit agitated”. He explained with a big grin on his face, “instead of having two incisor teeth in the centre of her upper jaw like most people, she only had one large single one” here he paused for effect. “Yes yes go on” I said impatiently, “what do you mean go on” he came back at me “that’s it! one tooth ONE-EATER”. I was shaking my head I still didn’t get it, still hearing the spoken word as Juanita. Lee had to explain it further before the penny finally dropped. Then the enormity of it all struck me!. All the firemen had been going around calling this poor girl One-eater in reference to her single tooth, and she had all along cheerfully been answering to the name. I said to Lee how cruel I thought this particular nickname was, but Lee shook his head saying “not really Guv they had originally thought to call her CENTRAL EATING” (one tooth in the centre of the mouth) but had thought that one perhaps a bit over the top.

Some weeks later One-eater stopped all conversation in the Laurie Arms the pub along the road from the fire station one night, with the simple statement “I think I now know why you firemen all call me One-eater”. All went quiet, all waited with bated breath, some even backed away a little, “Its because of my dark complexion, you all think that I look like a Spanish lady don’t you, and Juanita is a Spanish ladies name isn’t it”. The tense atmosphere cleared like top ventilation at a good smoky fire. “Yeh Yeh” said a voice “that’s right One-eater, you definitely look like a Spanish bird to me, what do you want to drink darling”. Thus, yet another calamity narrowly avoided, we all bumbled on with our lives yet again!.

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